By David Ball
Procol Harum were invited to perform a concert with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra on August 6, 1971. It was a transitional time for the British art rockers. Their North American tour was winding down and founding member, guitarist Robin Trower, had just been replaced by the exceptionally talented, strikingly handsome and brilliantly named, not to mention humble, Dave Ball (not to be confused with two other of my namesakes, the black garbed pasty thin dude from depressing ’80s Britpop duo Soft Cell, or the old school country revivalist that had a bit of commercial run in the ’90s). In the midst of composing new orchestral arrangements for the upcoming partnership, lead singer Gary Brooker thought the concert should be preserved for posterity so he floated the notion to the group’s label, A&M. The company agreed. The resulting 1972 album, Live in Concert with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, reached the Billboard 200 Top 5 on the strength of hit single “Conquistador,” which incidentally was added at the last minute (Brooker wrote the song on the flight over from England); the Edmonton Symphony didn’t have time to properly rehearse the arrangement, but it sounded pitch-perfect to these non-classically trained ears.
Interestingly, the ESO’s British-born music director and conductor, Lawrence Leonard (1968-73), hated rock music and reportedly disowned the project, going so far as to have his name removed from the liner notes. No word on whether or not the decidedly non-groovy Mr. Leonard and his “brilliant” anti-rock decision disqualified him from cashing in on subsequent royalties (methinks missing out on $$$ paychecks would’ve made the conductor regret his hard-line attitude).
The ESO was founded in 1920 but had to suspended operations in 1932. Thankfully, the respected symphony was restarted in the fall of 1952 and became a professional ensemble in 1971, just in time for their collaboration with Procol Harum.
It went from bad to badder to baddest…
Perhaps feeling twice short-shrifted, thousands of angry metal fans in Montreal’s Olympic Stadium went on a rampage – looting, burning cars, smashing windows and hurling various projectiles at police – after both co-headliners, Metallica and Guns N’ Roses, cut short their highly anticipated sets on April 8, 1992. At least Metallica had a good excuse for their early exit: guitarist/lead singer James Hetfield sustained second and third degree burns to his arm after a pyrotechnic prop he was standing on exploded during the beginning notes of “Fade to Black”.
After such an unfortunate accident, fans no doubt forgave Hetfield and company for being forced to end things after only an hour. But the straw that broke the camel’s back, make that the incident that broke the backs of thousands, was when Guns N’ Roses’ erratic front man Axl Rose walked off stage early during the band’s closing slot. He claimed he had a sore throat. Call me crazy, but I think the crowd would’ve rioted, sore throat or not, the moment the Gunners started airing-out one-too-many selections from their incessantly pretentious twofer, Use Your Illusion I and II. And for those that have had the pleasure of visiting Olympic Stadium, I know that you’ll agree that the metal-head mutineers should’ve kept on going and levelled the entire taxpayer boondoggle and life-sucking concrete bunker to the ground.
Damage was estimated at $300,000, eight police officers were injured, a dozen wanton revellers were arrested, and Metallica sued Montreal concert promoter Donald K. Donald in 1995 for $254,000, claiming they were never paid for the gig. Donald coughed-up an additional $300,000 to audience members because of the show’s abrupt ending. For footage of the riot, check out the 1992 documentary, A Year and a Half in the Life of Metallica.
Where no man has gone before, except for those that have been married 4 times…
Theatre actor turned starship captain turned renowned singer turned TV and film icon, Montreal-born William Shatner, got hitched for the first time on August 12, 1956. The McGill University graduate’s marriage to Gloria Rand lasted 13 years.
Coincidently (or perhaps not), Shatner’s relationship with Rand ended right around the time his musical debut was released to the public: 1968’s avant-garde “masterpiece,” Transformer Man. I’m guessing they probably divorced after Shatner asked her opinion of his unintentionally hilarious and over-the-top spoken-word renditions of Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man” and the Beatles classic, “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.”
While All Music Guide (shockingly) actually gives Transformer Man a favourable review, the remainder of Shatner’s music career, to put it kindly, can best be described as “checkered,” highlighted by his “definitive” live take of Elton John’s “Rocket Man” at the 1978 Science Fiction Film Awards (introduced by Bernie Taupin), a surprisingly campy/fun collaboration in 2004 with Ben Folds, and 2011’s “Has Been.” Keep ’em coming Captain Kirk!
Next week: The Lovin’ Spoonful and Woodstock
Original CBC news story regarding the Montreal Metallia/Guns N’ Roses riot